Earlier this month, hundreds of sexuality educators poured into the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the Center for Sex Education’s annual National Sex Ed Conference. The weather was brisk and the days were growing darker but, inside the conference rooms on the hotel’s dining level, attendees were too immersed in workshops and in lip syncs and in the business of making IRL connections to care.
I myself felt a bit like a fish out of water. A writer with a focus on women’s health, sexuality, and sex ed, I’d emailed Bill Taverner and Karen Rayne in early 2016, wanting to known more about advocacy around sex education, and about what it takes to become a sex educator. I was eager to bask in their wisdom, and begged them to let me volunteer my time to the CSE. They generously responded by handing me the reins to this very blog. But when they invited me to the conference, I knew I’d hit the mother lode.
Throughout my four days at the conference, I filled pages upon pages of my notebook with invaluable insight and information on how to become a more effective sexuality educator, and on how to bring vital sexual health information to diverse populations.
In a pre-conference workshop on finding common ground with those whose beliefs differ from your own, for example Golden Brick Award recipient Christian Trasher, MA, spoke about the consensus process as a tool for dissolving disagreements (or at least finding understanding) around issues of sexual health.
During a keynote speech the next day, writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman, one of the women behind Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and World Without Rape, spoke to the issue of responsible sex education and rape prevention, exhorting educators to see themselves as more than just sex educators, but as anti-violence educators as well.
Flying high after Friedman’s speech, which was simultaneously fierce and funny and so important, I settled down in a spacious, ocean-view room for Mark Levand and Sasha Canan’s workshop on the sexualization of sex educators. In addition to educators, the room was filled also with clinicians and program coordinators and other sexuality professionals. Levand and Canan immediately engaged attendees, asking them to call out the types of people by whom they’d been sexualized. Thus warmed up, we spent the majority of the workshop broken up into small groups, discussing both the type of behavior and comments we’d been confronted by, and how we might respond to or prepare for it in the future. The session was cathartic, and reassuring in the way it showed everyone in attendance that they were not alone in their experiences.
I rounded out my day with a presentation by Sameera Qureshi, MS OTR/L, who spoke about engaging Muslim communities in order to create culturally sensitive sex education programs. Director of Sexuality Education & Training at HEART Women & Girls, Qureshi invited attendees to shout out some of the biases and preconceptions they had encountered in regard to the Muslim population. Writing down words and phrases such as “patriarchal” and “without agency,” Qureshi systematically shattered every stereotype. She went on educate the educators on Islam’s sex-positive beliefs, and then to speak about how we need to meet all communities where they’re at when we seek to provide sex ed that will truly serve them.
On the third day of the conference—after sunrise yoga taught by sexuality educator Heather Simonson and a roundtable breakfast with tables offering discussions on self-care, adult sex ed, askable adults, and more—I dove into a full day of workshops. These included Francisco Ramirez’s keynote speech on hacking sex ed, a highly entertaining, engaging, and dynamic presentation on using creative and innovative means to bring sexual health education to a wider range of people. Among the words of advice he shared with those in the audience were suggestions for building trust within communities, resisting sex-negativity, creating alliances and, of course, being courageous.
Later that day, I attended a workshop on providing effective sex ed in restrictive environments, run by Lindsey Cain, MEd. Attendees were pushed to brainstorm how they might respond to a variety of sensitive situations in the classroom, forcing them to think on their feet, and also to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every teaching environment. Listening in as educators discussed the steps they might take to approach a problem—something they might have only a few moments to address in real life—my belief that sex educators are superheroes was only confirmed.
And speaking of superheroes, I also saw Al Vernacchio, MSEd, present a lesson plan in which he likens the changes one experiences during puberty to the changes superheroes undergo as they obtain their superpowers. This brilliant framework allows educators to teach kids about their bodies and their relationships in a way that is not rooted in fear or shame. Naturally, Vernaccio himself was dressed as a superhero, and handed out superhero stickers at the end of “class.”
There was one more day after that, and I managed to attend two more workshops before driving the two hours back home. When I left, I had a full-to-bursting notebook, two new books, a Sex Geek T-shirt, a nifty tote bag, and more insight into the field of sex ed than I’d ever had before.
Because I couldn’t be in five places at once, there were many more workshops on offer that I was unable to report on here. Rest assured, however, that if you’re looking to hone your already-strong sex education skills, build your knowledge in a new-to-you-field, or something in between, this is the place to be. See you next year?
(gorgeous photos courtesy of Erika Kapin Photography)